Narrative Therapy in Practice

Recently I was in a seminar where we were instructed to describe our professional values. Each individual used similar descriptive words such as; independent, driven and passionate. Though when asked why we selected these values many of us could not answer; because these are the values inscribed into us. We are told we should hold these values and these are held by the ideal professional candidate. We attach these to ourselves as they are the values we would like to hold. Shapiro et al. (2016 p.38) found that all journalists described themselves with a similar core professional value; accuracy.  Therefore, to try and fully evaluate our true selves, we undertook narrative therapy practice exercises.

Narrative therapy practice is a theory utilised in psychology to achieve context around a value or incident that the individual is describing. Morgan (2000) defines narrative therapy as a; ‘respectful, non-blaming approach which views problems separately from people.’ We are utilising this theory per the process of understanding professional identity as described by the Dulwich Centre (2002). Dulwich Centre states that individuals should bring in external examples which perhaps shy away from their professional career. It is the belief that this process will open the individual up about themselves that otherwise may have been overlooked. The process should provide a greater depth and answers about what shapes the individual (Dulwich Centre 2002).

We paired up to each undertake a narrative interview about something which had happened recently where we had to a make decision. This required us to detail the situation, as well as providing previous context surrounding the decision. We were then questioned as to why we made that decision, what was the expected outcome and did we expect to follow it? This allowed us to step back from the situation and think why we made this decision. When we subconsciously make decisions we are unaware that in that moment we are actually displaying a value that we hold as a person. When questioned in-depth about these decisions and having to relate the decision to prior times within our life, it allows us to see that perhaps this is a value that we have previously not noticed.

The exercise was followed by the interviewer recounting our narrative, where they relayed exactly what was said word for word. This allows the interviewer to attempt to place values that they have obtained through-out the story, but it also allowed the interviewee to hear the story re-told and view the situation from a different perspective. Ultimately this was a listening exercise and it is interesting to find out what the interviewer has retained from your narrative and what contextual features led them to remember these facts.

For me personally I feel I gained more from Michael White’s concept the ‘absent but implicit’. The absent but implicit concept attempt’s to make sense of how we individually read texts, particularly our account of events (Carey, Walther, Russell 2009 p.321). The absent but implicit to define the concept simply reviews an individual’s narrative, often of a negative experience, and discovers what the individual does not include within the plot.  When utilising this concept the interviewers are to listen carefully to what they can hear about the experience and what they are also not hearing (Carey, Walther, Russell 2009 p.321). This is a significant concept as generally we will make sense of our own self through contrasting our experiences against what they are not (Carey, Walther, Russell 2009 p.321), thus the meaning is absent from our thoughts but our narrative has subtly suggested it.

This concept resonated with me the most, as I often find negative experiences are hard to move on from and I do not fully understand my actions. I am often left not understanding why I feel the way I do, however, when I discussed my experience with a fellow class member as a narrative interview I was able to see what I was overlooking about my personality and what values I hold deeply. This was furthered when my interviewer responded through asking me deeper questions about issues and feelings I had not noticed when I was answering but apparently it was implicit. This reflection and my interviewer’s conclusions allowed me to see that I hold a value that I never knew about and that I am not able to recognise why I react in such a way to similar incidents.  Nevertheless, it should not be ignored that some conclusions regarding an interviewee’s identity can be negative on the person. Morgan (2000) describes a scenario where the individual is classed as an attention seeker and this immediately is received negatively and disempowers the individual.

Overall narrative therapy practice has many mutual benefits for the interviewer and the interviewee. The interviewer gains skills in listening and learning to write down exact quotes whilst also trying to uncover in-depth information the interviewee might not know about themselves. Whilst the interviewee will discover values and morals that they might not have otherwise have uncovered, this is valuable foresight when approaching decisions. It is also valuable when the narrative practice is undertaken in a professional setting, it will allow the interviewee to escape the inscribed values we place on ourselves. Though it should not be ignored that some conclusions from this practice can lead to individuals feeling negative towards themselves.



Combs, G and Freedman, J 2012, ‘Narrative, Poststructuralism, and Social Justice: Current Practices in Narrative Therapy’, in The Counseling Psychologist, vol.40, no.1033 p.1034.

Carey, M, Walther, S, & Russell, S 2009, ‘The absent but implicit: a map to support therapeutic enquiry’, Family Process, 48, 3, pp. 319-331.

Dulwich Centre, 2002, ‘Storying professional identity’, Dulwich Centre, viewed on 3rd March 2016, < >

Morgan, A 2000, ‘What is Narrative Therapy?’, Dulwich Centre, viewed on 30th March 2016, < >

Shapiro, I, Brin, C, Spoel, P, & Marshall, L 2016, ‘Images of Essence: Journalists’ Discourse on the Professional “Discipline of Verification”‘, Canadian Journal Of Communication, vol. 41, no. 1, pp. 37-48.